REVIEW: Hugo Novelette Finalists

written by David Steffen

Another category in the Hugo Award review series for this year, this is for the novelette category which covers fiction between 7500 words and 17,500 words.

As mentioned before, this year marked several rule changes–including that there will be six nominees in every category, and the nomination tallying rules are different to discourage voting collusion that had been dominant in the couple years prior.  This (and perhaps other factors) seems to have had the intended effect.

1. “The Jewel and Her Lapidary” by Fran Wilde ( Publishing, May 2016)
The gems that live beneath in the kingdom in the Valley can talk, and they can exert a powerful influence on those who can hear them.  In centuries past the great deaf king found that he could bind the dangerous jewels mined from the earth so that they could be bent to the people’s will, and since then the country has been protected and ruled by a combination of Jewels and Lapidaries.  Jewels are the ruling class, those most influenced by the gems.  Lapidaries are their faithful servants, able to talk the jewels into speaking echoes of their own intent, though the gems will only obey those who are faithful to their oaths, the more powerful the oaths the more the gems may obey them.  The country is now in shambles, betrayed by the King’s Lapidary, and it is up to the one remaining Jewel (Lin) and the one remaining Lapidary (Sima) to thwart this hostile takeover.

Powerful story with very interesting and novel magical system.  I’m not entirely sure I understood all the details of the magic system by the end of the story, and so was never entirely sure what a Lapidary was capable of until it happened.  The switching points of view between the two main characters probably didn’t help because I didn’t always seem to notice when the point of view switches and took some time to realize and re-orient.  But I think this was only my own failure as a reader and not a problem with the story as such, and the story was very well done.

2. “The Tomato Thief” by Ursula Vernon (Apex Magazine, January 2016)

Grandma Harken lives outside of town, partly because she is a witch, but mostly because she just wants to be left alone most of the time.  When someone steals her prize tomatoes just before she has a chance to pick them for herself, Grandma Harken sets out to find the thief and show them the error of their ways.  No mundane gardener, neither is her tomato thief a mundane animal.

Grandma Harken reminds me (in a good way) of one of my favorite characters in fantasy stories–Granny Weatherwax of the Discworld series by Terry Pratchett.  No-nonsense, grouchy but compassionate and unwilling to admit that last bit.  Vernon is very good at writing this sort of character (her “Pocosin” of the previous year is another great example), and I very much enjoyed this and the imaginative turns it took with its practical no-nonsense protagonist and this twisted desert mythology.

3. “You’ll Surely Drown Here If You Stay” by Alyssa Wong (Uncanny Magazine, May 2016)

In this Weird West tale, Ellis is a young man in a small town trying to come to a handle on his necromantic powers.  Strangers come to town looking to make use of his uncanny abilities.

Alyssa Wong is one of those authors whose work I always look forward to.  Her stories are amazingly imaginative, with powerful and relatable characters and she seems to have a particular knack for writing very dark characters that are nonetheless very easy to root for.  This is another excellent one from an author who consistently hits them out of the park.

4. “Touring with the Alien” by Carolyn Ives Gilman (Clarkesworld Magazine, April 2016)

Because Avery has a security clearance, she gets recruited for a top secret job showing an alien and its human liaison around the USA in a tour bus.  At least, she’s told there’s an alien… is it in one of the crates?  Left only with the alien-raised human, who is strange enough.

This has the feel of a classic SF story with an inexplicable alien and the exploration of what it means to be human and how a lifeform that did not come from the same evolutionary environment as us–thought-provoking and interesting.

5. “The Art of Space Travel” by Nina Allan (, July 2016)

Thirty years after the first manned Mars mission, a second mission is preparing to launch. Emily works as a housekeeper at a hotel that will be housing some of the astronauts before the launch and so she is kept plenty busy with her preparations for the highly publicized visit to come.  Her mother, Moolie, mentions something that suggests that Moolie may have known some of the original crew, and may have been more than just acquaintances.  But Moolie’s mind is slipping–is she just confused, or is she talking about something that really happened?

I’m afraid I found this one quite hard to get into.  I didn’t find the Moolie’s vague claims all that compelling, and they did just seem to me like flights of fancy and it didn’t seem like there was enough substance to drive the whole thing to me.  Your mileage may vary, as ever.

6. Alien Stripper Boned From Behind By The T-Rex by Stix Hiscock (self-published)

The story is exactly what it says on the tin.  The protagonist is a three-breasted green alien who shoots lasers out of her nipples when highly aroused.  When she meets a dinosaur who seems so different from the rest of her clientele… well, it’s not a spoiler if it’s in the title, right?

Yes, this one is conspicuous on the ballot for its title, the author name, the cover art, and for being erotica.  Like Chuck Tingle’s story last year, there is a reason that you can find out if you dig into it.  Like last year it didn’t seem to be the author’s doing, so I wanted to give it a shot.

I’m afraid that speculative erotica might just not be my kind of thing.  It seemed like it was trying to be erotic and also trying to be funny, and for me it failed to inspire either response.  I think the cover art could use some serious work, and the quality of writing was not impressive, and the entire premise was pretty much contained in the title.


REVIEW: Hugo Short Story Finalists

written by David Steffen

Science fiction award season is here again, and the Hugo final ballot was announced for WorldCon 75 in Helsinki Finland.  Lots of familiar names and publications on the list, and I’m looking forward to reading more of their work.  Note that this year marks the instatement of some new rules by those who attended the WSFS meetings at the last two WorldCons, meant to counteract the voter collusion dominating the ballot in the last few years.  First, although voters could still only nominate five things for each category, there are six finalists on the ballot instead of five.  Second, there is a new nomination-counting procedure in place meant to weaken the effect of large groups of people voting for the exact same ballot, a rule called E Pluribus Hugo which I have researched and understood and then completely forgotten about several times since it was first proposed a couple years ago.  And the rule changes do appear to have an effect–the ballot looks different than it has the last couple of years.

On to the short story category, my favorite category of all the Hugo categories, covering stories less than 7500 words.  This review covers five of the six nominees.

1.  “Our Talons Can Crush Galaxies”, by Brooke Bolander (Uncanny Magazine, November 2016)

“This is not the story of how he killed me, thank fuck.”  So goes the memorable opening line of this story, both a fantasy story about the vengeance of a demigoddess, as well as a metanarrative about the stories we tell about killers and not about the killed.

Short and to the point, Bolander never beats around the bush.  She gets right to the point and gets her point across in an entertaining way and is done before you’ve had chance to really consider what just happened.  This story refuses to bow to the convention of trying to humanize the abuser, and engages with that choice directly right in the first two paragraphs.

2. “That Game We Played During the War”, by Carrie Vaughn (, March 2016)

The war is almost over, in all but the most official of ways, and Calla is going into the heart of enemy territory to visit a friend from the other side as he lays in the hospital. Larn, who she is visiting, is a Gaant, who are telepathic.  Calla is an Enith who are not.  During her time in the war she had both a nurse watching over Larn and other prisoners of war, as well as a prisoner herself who was watched over by Larn.  In their time together they forged a connection between them, based around her teaching him how to play chess.  The Gaant as a rule don’t play games like chess because being able to read another person’s mind makes it hard to win games of strategy.  But Calla is going to play one last game.

This is a solid story built around a simple premise, and I loved to see the friendship they formed even in the most hostile of environments and when everything in the world was stacked against that friendship.  Friendship is a powerful thing.

3. “Seasons of Glass and Iron”, by Amal El-Mohtar (The Starlit Wood: New Fairy Tales, Saga Press)

This is the story of two women who are the protagonists of different fairy tales meeting each other and what happens after.  Tabitha is a woman cursed to wear seven pairs iron shoes of iron shoes, one after the other, and walk and walk and walk until they are all worn down to nothing.  Amira is a woman cursed to sit in complete stillness on the top of a glass hill, a hill surrounded by her suitors who try again and again to climb the hill to reach her.  Tabitha’s iron shoes grip the hill and so the women meet and become friends.

Another solid story about the power of friendship, this one about the sympathy we have for the bad situations of our friends even when we can’t seem to see our equally bad situations that we are in, and how having friends you can trust to lend you perspective on your life can mean everything in the world.

4.  “The City Born Great”, by N. K. Jemisin (, September 2016)

When cities reach a certain age, a certain stage, then they are born from the dead collection of objects that they are into a living breathing thinking creature.  This is a dangerous time because there are things that prey on newborn cities, killing them while they are drawing their first breath.  Each city has a midwife, who can use their magical song to help their city through this fight.  It is almost time for New York City to be born, and a young Black man is about to learn he is the midwife.

Action packed story with a really cool fantasy premise and striking imagery, Jemisin’s story is grounded in a sense of place, perfect for a story that is all about a place becoming a sort of gargantuan person.  This is a standalone story, but this could easily be a series as different cities wake up.

5.  “A Fist of Permutations in Lightning and Wildflowers”, by Alyssa Wong (, March 2016)

Melanie and Hannah are sisters, with the power over weather and time.  When things got bad at home, Melanie chose to stay, and Hannah chose to leave.  Hannah takes a flight home, the first time she’s come back in years, and the skies open for Melanie and Hannah witnesses her death by lightning.  Determined to fix this, Hannah tries again, rolling time back and trying a different way to save her sister.  Again and again she tries to get there in time to save Melanie.

A story of sisterly love and of coming to understand someone who you already thought you had known, of fighting against impossible odds to fix the world for someone you love.  Solid, fast-paced, very well done.


The Best of Pseudopod 2016

written by David Steffen

Pseudopod, the weekly horror podcast edited by Shawn Garrett and Alex Hofelich, has now been running for more than ten years, an incredible feat for a podcast, which often fade away after a year or two. 2016 marked some major moments in the podcast’s history–they increased their pay rate for flash stories, which I believe should have started their one-year timer for eligibility to become a SFWA-qualifying market, they ran a successful Kickstarter campaign to fund the paying of narrators for the podcast, and also launched an anthology (which includes, among many others, my flash fiction horror story “What Makes You Tick”).

In February Pseudopod once again participated in the Artemis Rising theme across the Escape Artists podcasts, publishing horror stories by women (including some originals picked out from a special slushpile just for this purpose).

Pseudopod publishes episodes weekly, with occasional Flash on the Borderlands episodes that collect 3 similar-themed flash stories for a single episode, for a total of 63 stories published in 2016.

Stories that are eligible for this year’s Hugo and Nebula Awards are marked with an asterisk (*).

The List

1. “Like Dolls” by J. Lily Corbie*
When the story begins, the protagonist is already dead, and pretty much content to be so.  But her betrothed digs her up, disturbing her restful state, dragging her back to the land of the living.

2. “The Christmas Spirits, a Tale of the White Street Society” by Grady Hendrix
One of a series of stories in a series about the White Street Society.  The series is hard to describe without reading it, speculative stories based around a sort of “old boys club” in New England, sort of comedies based around how horrible the worldview of the members of this society are.

3. “Night Games” by Aeryn Rudel
I don’t really like baseball.  I’m kindof tired of vampires. But somehow, to my great surprise, this vampire baseball story totally works for me.

4. “The Fisher Queen” by Alyssa Wong
This is the story of Lily, who works on her father’s fishing boat whose primary catch is mermaids.  Mermaids are prized as an exotic catch, and one day in the hold, one of the mermaids talks to her.

5. “Cold Spots” by Lena Coakley*
A love story between someone who is still alive, trying to recapture the memory or the ghost of their dead love.

6. “Falling Under, Through the Dark” by Damien Angelica Walters
A story of living through the deepest of grief after the most tragic of loss.

Honorable Mentions

“Mr. Hill’s Death” by S.L. Gilbow

“The Show” by Priya Sharma

“The Masters” by Theodore Cogswell













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Long List Anthology Vol 2 Kickstarter!

written by David Steffen

long-list-antho-cover-art-color-comp-lg-1The Kickstarter has been launched for the Long List Anthology Volume 2!

Same premise as last year, to put together an anthology of works from the longer Hugo Award nomination list.  This year, Galen Dara has been commissioned for original cover art–the art at the top of the post is not the final version, it is a color proof of the art, but the final version will be shared as soon as possible.

Check out the rewards, besides copies of the books there are critiques from Martin L. Shoemaker, Sunil Patel, Erica Satifka and myself.

Check out the Kickstarter page for additional information, but here’s the list of the stories that will be included if funding levels are reached.

Short Stories and Letters (base goal)

  • “Three Cups of Grief, By Starlight” by Aliette de Bodard
  • “Madeleine” by Amal El-Mohtar
  • “Pockets” by Amal El-Mohtar
  • “Tuesdays With Molakesh the Destroyer” by Megan Grey
  • “The Women You Didn’t See” by Nicola Griffith (a letter from Letters to Tiptree)
  • “Damage” by David D. Levine
  • “Neat Things” by Seanan McGuire (a letter from Letters To Tiptree)
  • “Today I Am Paul” by Martin L. Shoemaker
  • “Pocosin” by Ursula Vernon
  • “Wooden Feathers” by Ursula Vernon
  • “Hungry Daughters of Starving Mothers” by Alyssa Wong

Novelettes (stretch goal at $3900)

  • “The Heart’s Filthy Lesson” by Elizabeth Bear
  • “So Much Cooking” by Naomi Kritzer
  • “Another Word For World” by Ann Leckie
  • “Grandmother-nai-Leylit’s Cloth of Winds” by Rose Lemberg
  • “The Deepwater Bride” by Tamsyn Muir
  • “The Long Goodnight of Violet Wild” by Catherynne M. Valente
  • Up to 1 other

Novellas (stretch goal at $5000)

  • “The Pauper Prince and the Eucalyptus Jinn” by Usman T. Malik
  • “The Sorcerer of the Wildeeps” by Kai Ashante Wilson